What is Lactic Acid and How is it Formed?

16/02/2013  //     //  Nutrition



Generally, it is known to be an enzyme that’s formed during high-intensity exercises and when it accumulates, it causes fatigue and pain in our body. This is the most common and simple way to explain it with just a few words.



The scientific explanations and comments say that, when we begin to exercise, the stored glucose and carbohydrates in our body are ready to be used and the muscles are relaxed and not contracted. The bloodstream towards the muscles is at a normal level and the vessels are able to transport enough blood and oxygen.


When we begin to exercise, the body converts the glycogen into energy and gains power. As most of you will know, glycogen is one of the the fastest substances to pass into the bloodstream and it is converted into energy very quickly. After the body gains power by processing glycogen, it starts to convert the stores of readily available carbohydrates into energy. At this point, our respiratory and circulatory systems are able to transport enough amount of oxygen to the tissues. At this stage, after gaining power from glycogen production, the muscle soreness start to show up. When the pace of the exercise is increased, the oxygen amount needed by the body to burn energy increases as well. When the muscles are contracted, the vessels harden, so they can transport less blood and less oxygen to the muscles when compared to the beginning. So the body starts to make energy, using less oxygen to burn the carbohydrates. In this formation of energy, due to less oxygen usage, the lactic acid level in the body begins to get higher.  (Lactic acid is present in our blood even when we are in the resting position (approx. 0,5 – 1,5 mmol)). The lactic acid produced is then transported from the muscles to the liver and broken down in order to be used as an energy source again. There’s always a balance between the production and breakdown of lactate and the exercise can be continued without any problems until the glycogen stores are all empty. If the exerciser’s body is trained enough to convert the produced lactic acid into energy and his cells are able to transport the lactic acid to the liver, we can speak about the exerciser’s DURABILITY – ENDURANCE. At the next stage, the lactic acid which can not be transported to the liver as anergy and accumulates in the body, passes into the bloodstream and when this blood reaches the brain, our nervous system starts to give us signals of tiredness.



Lactic acid is also known as “milk acid”. Milk and products like yoghurt and cheese, make us feel tired and sleepy. The reason is, the lactic acid in these products makes us feel tired, so that the low flawing bloodstream among the contracted muscles gets to normal levels. Considering the levels reached during the carbohydrate burning process after the body runs out of glycogen and the vessels’ condition after an exercise of 30 minutes or more and with the stiffness in the muscles, the lactic acid tolerance levels changing from person to person will be felt at the exerciser’s own lactic acid threshold level.


The body’s lactic acid threshold is related to the exerciser’s training level. Thus, the lactic acid threshold level of an exerciser who’s used to training and has a high level of durability and endurance is higher when considered to another one with less training and low durability. The signals of lactic acid after a high-intensity exercise in an untrained body are fatigue and pain. When a body is not trained enough to transport the access lactic acid to the liver on time to turn it into energy, the lactic acid accumulation will naturally be much more when first started to exercise. After high-intensity exercises, active resting by relaxing the muscles while the body is still warm (to provide widening in the vessels) is a better way to reduce the lactic acid level when considered to passive resting. You can find the related scientific research in my previous article by clicking here.


When we look from a more professional angle, after high-intensity exercises and races, the effect of massage is quite important. Did you know that team masseurs of the racers in multi-lap pro-tours massage them at the end of the laps?



In Astana team, the racers who step on the podium at 18:00 get their massage at 20:00; two hours after a challenging race…


We can explain the effect of massage this way:


A massage given in the direction of the bloodstream, according to the proper technique, provides a general relaxation. If it’s soft, it’s called a Relax massage; if it’s harder, it’s called a Swedish massage. The muscles and tissues need energy again to reach their normal conditions. Regaining energy is especially important for the bicycle racers who have difficult exercises and multi-lap races, to bring the body back into its normal condition by putting back the minerals lost. More detailed information about this subject will be given in the “Nutrition in Sportsmen” article. After intensive exercises, the body must regain its energy immediately and this process must be followed by a massage.



While the food we eat is burnt and broken down to its smallest pieces, by the oxygen we breathe, a biochemical energy named ATP (Adenosine triphosphate) is produced. However, at that moment, some byproducts such as lactic acid, fatty acids, amino acids, carbondioxide and free radicals are produced as well. Because of the accumulation of these byproducts, we experience a bio chemical fatigue which decreases our performance and joy of life. Massage manipulations accelerate the bloodstream and lymph fluid and vitalize the muscles and tissues by stimulating the nerve endings. So as a consequence, we feel fresher and calmer. Massage has a very important role in relaxing the muscles that are contracted during high-intensity exercise. When the muscles come back to their normal condition, the bloodstream will accelerate, the vessels will be able to carry more oxygen rich blood, thus the exerciser’s performance will improve rapidly. Normally, the lactic acid amount will slowly come to its normal level after the exercise. But the speed of this process can be increased by widening the vessels with a massage given after the exercise.



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